In early March, ABC News broke the story of a Department of Homeland Security report, saying that the ports of New York and New Jersey are at high risk because of the truck drivers who serve them.
It said of 9,000 port truckers checked, "nearly half had evidence of criminal records," and that more than 500 held bogus drivers licenses. According to ABC, the Port Authority had issued ID cards to thousands of truckers "with virtually no background checks," giving them access to all areas of the ports.
The investigation was conducted for DHS by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It found ID cardholders who had backgrounds that included homicide, assault, sex offenses, arson, drug dealing, identity theft and cargo theft, among other things.
These are alarming developments that show government efforts to get an effective – yet simple – driver screening system in place are not getting the job done.
The program that was meant to do that is called the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC for short). It is under the jurisdiction of the Transportation Security Administration. A pilot model was launched in 2001, followed by a prototype project that issued ID cards to volunteers to see how they would work.
That appears to be as far as it's come.
Insiders point to TSA's revolving door of management changes as one reason there's no system in place. But one source tells us that now – perhaps partly as a result of the new study – Capitol Hill "has lit a fire under some people's behinds."
But there are other angles to the situation. Even if the Port Authority failed to properly screen the drivers in question, some trucking companies must have failed in that department, too. Hence, a black eye for all trucking, even though, as ABC's story pointed out, "...many of the folks who come in to service the ports...are people who don't have very distinguished backgrounds."
Surprisingly, the study did not receive widespread media coverage, although the New York Times did address it. The smudge on trucking could have been a lot worse.
ABC didn't bother to mention pilot projects currently under way in several ports to monitor container contents with "black box" technology, and it gave one mention – the last sentence of its story – to the TWIC prototype program.
All that said, what galls me the most here is that in its delivery of the story, ABC basically outlined how terrorists could shut down the country with some well-placed bombs. Not that terrorists probably haven't already thought of the ports, but why give them any more ideas?
Osama and his pals must just love our media.
E-mail Doug Condra at [email protected], or write PO Box W. Newport Beach Calif. 92656